Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra

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Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra (Skt. Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa-sūtra; Tib. དྲི་མེད་གྲགས་པས་བསྟན་པའི་མདོ་, Wyl. dri med grags pas bstan pa'i mdo) — a popular Mahayana sutra, especially in the Chinese Chan tradition. It is set in the city of Vaishali, both in the garden of Amrapali where the Buddha resided and in the home of the lay bodhisattva Vimalakirti.

Sanskrit Text

No text was apparent in India until after Nagarjuna (c. first century B.C. to first century A.D.) had revived the Mahayana traditions, discovering the Mahayana Sanskrit sutras, the Vimalakirti text among them.

In more recent times, it was thought that all Sanskrit texts of the work had been lost, except for some fragments quoted in Mahayana philosophical works. In 1998, however, a Sanskrit manuscript was found in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, of which edited versions have been published in 2004 and 2006 by the Taishō University Study Group on Sanskrit Buddhist Literature.[1]

Chinese Translation

This text was translated into Chinese several times over the centuries. It was supposedly first translated in the second century with Yan Fodiao (A.D. 188) but is not available today. The three existing versions are from:

  • Zhi Qian (A.D. 222-229),
  • Kumārajīva (A.D. 406), which is the most popular, and
  • Xuanzang (A.D. 650), which is the most technically accurate.[2]


The Chinese edition is divided into 14 chapters:

  1. The Pure Buddha Realms
  2. The Inconceivable Skillful Means
  3. The Shravakas’ Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti
  4. The Bodhisattvas' Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti
  5. Manjushri Enquires about Vimalakirti's Health
  6. The Inconceivable
  7. The Vision of Beings
  8. The Family of the Tathagatas
  9. The Dharma-Door of Nonduality
  10. The Tathagata Sugandhakuta
  11. The Practice of the Bodhisattvas
  12. Vision of the Tathagata Akshobhya
  13. The Offerings of Dharma
  14. Transmission of the Sutra

Tibetan Translation

The Sanskrit text was translated into Tibetan by the monk Chönyi Tsultrim (Wyl. chos-nyid tshul-khrims), one of the compilers of the Mahavyutpatti, at the beginning of the 9th century. It can be found in:


The Tibetan edition is divided into 12 chapters:

  1. Purification of the Buddhafield
  2. Inconceivable Skill in Liberative Art
  3. The Disciples’ and the Bodhisattvas’ Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti
  4. The Consolation of the Invalid
  5. The Inconceivable Liberation
  6. The Goddess
  7. The Family of the Tathagatas
  8. The Dharma-Door of Nonduality
  9. The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
  10. Lesson of the Destructible and the Indestructible
  11. Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Akshobhya
  12. Antecedents and Transmission of the Holy Dharma

Modern Translations

In English from Kumarajiva's Chinese Version

  • Luk, Charles. Ordinary Enlightenment: A Translation of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa (Shambhala Publications, 1975)
  • McRae, John. The Sutra of Queen Śrīmālā of the Lion's Roar and the Vimalakīrti Sutra (Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2004)

In English from the Tibetan Version

  • Boin, Sara. The Teaching of Vimalakirti (London: Pali Text Society, 1976, reprinted 1994). Based on Étienne Lamotte's French translation (see below)
  • Thurman, Robert. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture
  • Watson, Burton. The Vimalakirti Sutra (Columbia University Press, 1996)

In French

  • Carré, Patrick, Soûtra de la Liberté inconcevable : Les enseignements de Vimalakirti (Fayard, 2000). Translated from Chinese.
  • Lamotte, Étienne, L’Enseignement de Vimalakīrti, Louvain, 1962. Translated from Tibetan.


  • Sengzhao, in Chinese
    • French translation: Introduction aux pratiques de la non-dualité - Commentaire du Soûtra de la Liberté inconcevable, translated by Patrick Carré (Fayard, 2004)


  1. Professor Thurman in his 'Introduction' to his translation for 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
  2. Professor Thurman in his 'Introduction' to his translation for 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha & Philippe Cornu, Dictionnaire encyclopédique du bouddhisme (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2001), page 698.

Further Reading

  • Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, A Celebrity Falls Sick. Available at Khyentse Foundation in English and Chinese.

External Links